The spokesman for Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader was assaulted by security forces as he tried to leave the country Sunday, a party official said, accusing the government of continuing to target dissident activists.
The latest assault happened as President Robert Mugabe’s government comes under increasing international criticism for cracking down on the country’s opposition, disrupting its gatherings, and beating and arresting its leaders.
Sunday’s attack on Nelson Chamisa follows the re-arrests at the airport Saturday of three opposition activists, who were allegedly assaulted when police broke up a March 11 protest meeting.
Chamisa, aide to Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, was assaulted at Harare International Airport as he was trying to leave for a meeting of the European Union and Africa Caribbean Pacific in Brussels, Belgium, the party’s secretary general, Tendai Biti, said from Johannesburg.
“He was beaten on the head with iron bars. There was blood all over his face. He is in a critical condition at a private hospital in Harare,” Biti said.
Tsvangirai: ‘Things are bad’
Mugabe accused the opposition of being terrorists supported by Britain and the West, as Tsvangirai said the crisis in Zimbabwe had reached a decisive moment.
“Things are bad,” Tsvangirai told the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Sunday AM program, “but I think that this crisis has reached a tipping point, and we could see the beginning of the end of this dictatorship in whatever form.”
In Saturday’s re-arrests, Grace Kwinje and Sekai Holland, among the activists most severely injured March 11, were prevented from leaving to receive medical care abroad. Arthur Mutambara, leader of an opposition faction, was later also arrested at the airport.
A lawyer for Mutambara, Beatrice Mtetwa, said Sunday her client was being kept at the Harare central police station, and that he was being charged with inciting public violence in relation to last week’s incident.
However, she said he and the others were never formally charged. In a letter to police, Mutambara’s lawyers called his arrest “contemptuous, arrogant and malicious defiance” of a High Court order last week that stipulated he could not be taken into custody on the same charge.
The director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, Tawanda Mutasah, said Kwinje and Holland had tried to travel to Johannesburg to receive specialist post-traumatic care.
He said the ambulance carrying the two women from Harare’s Avenues clinic to the airport, where they were to leave in a medical rescue aircraft, was stopped on the tarmac by officers from Zimbabwe’s security forces.
The women’s passports were taken and they were told they needed clearance from the Department of Health. They were then instructed to go to Harare’s central police station, but were later allowed to return to the clinic under police guard.
Zimbabwean police used tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition to crush the March 11 gathering, and beat activists, during and after arrests, according to opposition members.
Mugabe: ‘Go hang’
The latest violence has drawn new attention to a deteriorating situation in the southern African country, where the increasingly autocratic Mugabe is blamed by opponents for repression, corruption, acute food shortages and inflation of 1,600 percent — the highest in the world.
Mugabe, 83, has rejected the international condemnation following the arrests and alleged beating, lashing out at critics and telling them to “go hang,” and he vowed to crack down on further protests.
Speaking at a ceremony to mark International Women’s Day in Harare on Saturday, Mugabe accused the opposition party of resorting to violence sponsored by former colonial power Britain and other Western allies to oust his government, a newspaper reported Sunday.
“We have given too much room to mischief-makers and shameless stooges of the West. Let them and their masters know that we shall brook none of their lawless behavior,” Mugabe was quoted as saying in the Sunday Mail.
“Scores of innocent people going about their legitimate business have fallen prey to terrorist attacks that are part of the desperate and illegal plot to unconstitutionally change the government of the country,” he said.